'Mad Men' Recap: Cleaning House - Rolling Stone
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‘Mad Men’ Recap: Cleaning House

Joan sends her Army doctor back to Vietnam – for good

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Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris on 'Mad Men.'

Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Bravo, Joan.

She couldn’t save those eight murdered student nurses in Chicago, but when Joan kicked her abusive husband’s sorry ass out of the house at the end of “Mystery Date,” she switched the entire tone of the episode from that of fear to empowerment. It’s just a shame she wasn’t around to help budding teen Sally understand that just because you’re young and pretty doesn’t mean men are allowed to turn you into a victim. Even Don wasn’t immune to the details of the gruesome July 1966 news story, as it manifested itself in one of the most twisted, perverse plot lines yet.

You Give Me Fever

It’s quite an impressive feat when Don can go one day without crossing paths with one of his former conquests. Unfortunately for Megan, who never got the memo that her husband pretty much had a one-sided open marriage with Betty, Don has been bumping into his old flames a little more often than she’d like. “How many times is this going to happen?” she pouts after meeting the flirtatious Andrea Rhodes in the elevator,  a “freelance writer from the old firm.” Under the haze of a bad cold, Don spends much of the episode convincing Megan that she has nothing to worry about – but we know better. Don Draper may be many things, but “monogamous” has never been one of them.

Until now. Don goes home sick, but rest eludes him when mystery date Andrea shows up at his doorstep for a quickie. Don orders her to leave and collapses on the bed – but when he awakens, she’s back, reminiscing about how they had sex behind Lincoln Center while his “wife was waiting inside.” The memories overtake Don and he starts tearing off her clothes.

When they’re done, an uncharacteristically remorseful Don pleads with Andrea to never return, because this was a “mistake.” But Andrea reminds him that it’s a “mistake you love making . . . because you’re a sick, sick –” A naked, sweaty, enraged (was that full-frontal, Hamm?) Don chokes her to death and pushes her under the bed, permanently silencing the memory of all his sordid affairs. Remaining faithful to one woman goes against every fiber of his being, but for the first time, it appears that Don is actually going to take his wedding vows seriously.

While the scene’s bizarre setup suggested early on (only the elevator run-in actually happened) that this was a dream brought on by Don’s fever-induced delirium – confirmed by Don waking up to an attentive Megan and no traces of a dead body – it was no less disturbing, especially because even though it wasn’t “real,” what makes Don Draper any different from Richard Speck, the student-nurse murderer?

Riot Girls

Pete informs a snoozing Roger that Mohawk Airlines wants a campaign run-through first thing Monday morning. The problem? It’s Friday evening and Roger was too busy doing nothing all week to bother mentioning this to Michael Ginsberg, Mohawk’s official copywriter. In a panic, Roger begs Peggy to work up a campaign over the weekend, because Ginsberg is conveniently MIA. Peggy quickly deduces that Roger doesn’t even know how much money she makes, and he’s desperate, so she squeezes him for every cent in his pocket to do the job. Four hundred dollars later, Peggy is the giddiest copywriter on Madison Avenue.

Later that night, Peggy discovers she’s not the only one still hanging around the office. Apparently Don’s new secretary, Dawn, has taken to bunking at SCDP for her own safety. Funny, Peggy says that Abe has been in Chicago covering the riots, yet she has no idea that a taxi won’t take someone like Dawn “past 96th Street,” and it’s not exactly in Dawn’s best interest to take the subway home at night (“there was a ‘thing’ in Bed-Stuy”).

Things get even more awkward once Peggy brings Dawn back to crash at her apartment. She offers beer and attempts small talk, but even the good girl from Bay Ridge can’t hide her prejudices. Earlier, Peggy had casually mentioned to Dawn that she had a large wad of cash on her, and just as she prepares to turn in, she notices her green purse sitting on the coffee table next to Dawn. Without either woman saying a word, we know what they’re thinking. Peggy: “She might steal my money.” Dawn: “That bitch thinks I’m going to steal her money.” Peggy leaves the purse, but in the morning, Dawn is gone, with a note thanking her hostess for her hospitality. Girl, you just got owned.

Adventures in Babysitting

We’ve yet to see if Sally is seeing a therapist in Rye, but after just a couple of days under Pauline Francis’ (Henry‘s mother) care – Henry and Betty are out of town – it will be a miracle if Sally isn’t in a padded room in the next episode. We’ve known since last season that Pauline is no fan of Betty, but it’s evident that Pauline’s distaste for her daughter-in-law is so profound that she’s taking it out on Sally. To Pauline’s credit, she discloses what makes her such a hard-ass, which is more than we can say for Betty (her father was strict – read: abusive).

Pauline keeps whispering about a bunch of student nurses who were killed. Sally, deeply curious and prevented by her babysitter from actually learning about it, sneaks the newspaper out of the trash and reads it under the bed covers. Traumatized by the grisly details, Sally seeks out a kitchen-knife-toting Pauline for answers as to why something like this could have happened – and her explanation is almost as disquieting as the actual event. Basically, the heavyset Pauline hates young, pretty girls like Sally and Betty, and she blames the student nurses for enticing Richard Speck to commit multiple homicides: “All those young, innocent nurses, in their short uniforms, stirring his desire.” And now that Sally has been completely scared shitless and is unable to fall asleep, Pauline sees no problem in giving her half a Seconal.

The next morning, Sally is passed out cold underneath the couch as a clueless Henry and Betty (who has lost an incredible amount of weight in the span of one week) return from Buffalo. This girl is going to be in rehab before the Beatles break up.

The Doctor Is Out

When Greg Harris comes home on a 10-day leave from Vietnam, Joan – who has not yet returned to SCDP – and her mother, Gail, orchestrate an elaborate dance of keeping Greg from spending too much time with baby Kevin, lest he should figure out that the kid isn’t even his. But that plot point turns out to be a red herring, because the real conflict within the Harris marriage is Greg’s decision to return to Vietnam for another year – and the reappearance of his abusive behavior. Naturally, Joan is disappointed when Greg tells her he’s going back, and even more devastated when his parents let it slip at a family dinner that he volunteered. This, coupled with the fact that he has become increasingly more menacing toward Joan reminds her that she doesn’t have to be Greg’s victim anymore.

The morning after the disastrous dinner, Joan tells her husband to return to Vietnam – and to not come home when his second tour of duty is up. An incensed Greg grabs her wrist and angrily insists that he’s a very important doctor over there. Joan, as calm as Greg is agitated, soberly informs her husband that while the Army makes him feel otherwise, he “is not a good man. Even before we were married – and you know what I’m talking about” (he raped her in Season Two). In a formidable display of taking back her life, she fluidly pulls her wrist out of Greg’s tight grasp.

Wrap-Up: Christina Hendricks’ scathing performance in the final few minutes of this episode completely made up for last week’s absence. And the end credits song, “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss),” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, is a sad reminder of the demons Joan has been battling in her marriage for the past three years.

Last episode: Summertime Blues


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